Joining the esteemed ranks of such prestige films as Rambo and Rocky, Oscar-contender Carol is the latest in the revered lexicon of character-name-as-title productions. Although disappointingly low on bullets and blood, Carol is a rich, chocolaty-to-the-point-of-edible period piece about illicit lesbian lovers in 50s America.
Cate Blanchett (best known for Indiana Jones 4) plays Carol, a wealthy woman in the process of breaking free from the shackles of her loving husband (an excellent if underused Kyle Chandler). It’ll suffice to say that she and he have ‘different tastes’, a fact which becomes more evident when Carol meets the timid sales assistant Therese (Rooney Mara). Dissatisfied by her own life experience, Therese starts up an ambiguous relationship with Carol, neither of the two acknowledging exactly what it is.
Carol is primarily about performance, and at this moment in time, could well be the front-runner for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Oscars. Blanchett has seldom been bad in anything and Carol shows her once again – with the help of the director and the script, obviously – at her enigmatic best.
The goal of Carol, however, seems to be to make you fall in love with Rooney Mara. It succeeds. Every moment that she is on screen is all the better for it. She is innocent without being naïve, young without being childish, and her face in every shot emits that concoction of confusion that is being in love and not knowing what to do with it.
Carol, of course, is a love story, the only downside being that it’s not a whole lot else. Being based on The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, Carol feels weirdly one-note when compared to The Talented Mr. Ripley or The Two Faces of January. The latter two, while containing illicit love stories at their core, also have criminal elements pulsating through them. At times, Carol becomes more sedated than subdued, not so much subtle as asleep. The smoking gun never even has a chance to smoke.
When things pick up in the second-half, however, and the drama of the situation fully kicks in, Carol becomes tremendously absorbing, surprisingly non-niche in its aims (to describe it as gay-cinema would be to wrongly categorize).
There are moments in Carol that make you forget there was a script (or even a book) beforehand: where nothing written on the page could match the visual storytelling presented. For all that it isn’t, Carol is always a beautiful film.
(Side note: this film more than any other contains people touching other people’s shoulders.)
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